Puppies are delightful, rambunctious fur balls, but all that energy can get them into trouble. You likely will lose patience with your pet having accidents in the house, chewing shoes and furniture, and jumping on guests. However, losing your cool when teaching your puppy household rules and obedience skills does not help them learn—in fact, it’s detrimental to their learning development, and your bond. When training your pup to master household rules, obedience, tricks, and housetraining, stick with positive training techniques. When you welcome your new puppy—or teach your old dog new tricks—follow these four pillars of positive training.
#1: Use positive reinforcement when training your puppy
When training your puppy, nothing is more important than positive reinforcement. This training technique has been deemed more humane, safe, and effective than other methods. Positive reinforcement focuses on rewarding your puppy’s desired behavior, encouraging them to repeat the behavior. After an incorrect behavior, use negative punishment (i.e., the removal or withholding of something your puppy wants, such as a treat, toy, attention, or human contact) to guide their decision next time they are asked to perform the behavior. You can also use a vocal interrupter—a sharp, short sound—to halt incorrect behavior in its tracks. These techniques form the foundation of positive training.
For example, positive training can be used when housetraining your puppy. When you catch them peeing on your rug, interrupt the behavior with a short sound. Then, take your puppy immediately outdoors to their normal elimination area, use their cue word, and reward them with treats and praise when they urinate outside. Rubbing your puppy’s nose in their urine is an incredibly outdated housetraining method that should never be used.
#2: Avoid using physical punishment and other aversives when training your puppy
Confrontational physical punishment may be one of the quickest ways to ruin your bond with your new puppy. Never hit, smack, or yell, and avoid using squirt bottles, shock collars, and other harsh punishment methods. These “training” types can cause impressionable young puppies to develop fear and anxiety, which can lead to fear-based aggression later in life.
For example, when your puppy bites you in play, remove your attention as negative punishment rather than smacking them on the nose. Remember, this form of punishment is accomplished by removing something your puppy wants—attention—without resorting to physical violence.
#3: Understand the outdated concept of dominance theory in dog training
For many years, people believed in the dominance theory, since dogs descended from wolves, but dogs are thousands of years removed from their wolf ancestors. Evolution and domestication have greatly changed their behavior, and they no longer rely on dominance, or have a pack system in their home. While a multi-dog household will establish their family pecking order, they do not operate like a wolf pack. A misbehaving puppy is not attempting to assert their dominance over you, so giving into the temptation to “alpha roll” your naughty puppy will only scare them and cause potential lifelong behavior issues.
#4: Understand your puppy’s point of view when training
When teaching your puppy new skills, put yourself in their paws. Learning anything in a different language is incredibly difficult, especially when you have a short attention span like your puppy. A lure, such as a toy or treat, can help bridge the communication gap when teaching your puppy to sit or lie down, and food rewards are a universally understood concept across all species. Giving your puppy a treat for a job well done will help cement the appropriate behavior in their mind.
In addition to teaching your puppy good manners at home, you may also want to enroll in a puppy preschool class, or more advanced lessons. To do so, your furry pal must be current on vaccinations and receive a clean fecal exam—which we recommend for your puppy’s health regardless.